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Brilliance in Game 7 bodes well for Bruins

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 31, 2011 09:20 AM

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"Exhausting. I haven't been that tired for a long time. I haven't slept for three days afterward."
- Boston Bruins owners Jeremy Jacobs in the aftermath of last week’s Game 7 between the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning


Fortunately, for Jeremy Jacobs and everyone else, it was a long weekend. Together, all of New England took a very deep breath following one of the more glorious victories in Boston sports history, all as the Bruins gathered their belongings and headed west for the start of the Stanley Cup finals.

But before we turn our attention ahead to Vancouver and the possibility of yet another celebration through the city neighborhoods and nooks – regardless, we continue to roll here in the Hub – a final moment to reflect.

Was that a whale of a game on Friday night or what?

For the moment, stop and ask yourself this question: what member of the Bruins played poorly in Friday’s epic 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning during a true seventh game for the ages? Short of finishing a few scoring chances – and goalie Dwayne Roloson had something to do with that – the Bruins played a virtually perfect game in dispatching the pesky Lightning and seemingly smug coach Guy Boucher, turning in the proverbial full 60 minutes from end to end of the TD Garden ice with a combination of skill, system, smarts, and steely resolve.

From top to bottom, the Bruins – yes, the Bruins – were positively brilliant in this game, delivering the kind of effort and execution that should make any follower, well, proud.

Let’s say that again.

If you are a Bruins fan – a long-suffering, emotionally traumatized Bruins fans - Friday’s victory should have made you as proud as ever, particularly after the Bruins so suffocated the Lightning in the final minutes that Tampa Bay had difficulty pulling its goalie.

Five-on-five, straight-up, our best against your best.

And the better team won.

What happens from here is an obvious mystery, though there is certainly a measure of propriety in a final between the Bruins and Canucks for one simple fact: during the regular season, in this order, Boston and Vancouver were the two best 5-on-5 teams in the league. There was nothing fluky about either’s success. Neither the Bruins nor the Canucks were overly reliant on power plays or penalty killing, their overall success dependent more upon the depth of their rosters and their integrated play. They wore you down, methodically attacked, beat you straight up.

For the Bruins, unfortunately, all of that may place even greater emphasis on their special teams play – particularly their oxymoronic power play – because, with the possible exception of Philadelphia, there is not another team they have faced this postseason with the capacity to neutralize Boston in 5-on-5 play.

And lest anyone forget, the Flyers played the large majority of the series without defenseman Chris Pronger.

Nonetheless, there is no overstating what the Bruins have done here, particularly during an era in which they have been overshadowed by each of Boston’s other three primary sports franchises. Until now, starting in 2002, the Patriots have been to four Super Bowls and five AFC Championship Games. The Red Sox have won two world titles and played in four American League Championship Series. The Celtics have won a title and been to the Eastern Conference finals on three occasions. The Bruins have been not merely the red-headed stepchild during this era – they have been rather red-faced, too.

But now? Now the Bruins are playing in the finals, all at a time when the Celtics appear to be deteriorating and the Patriots are stuck in the midst of a work stoppage toting a three-game postseason losing streak. The Red Sox are, at the moment, an afterthought. Boston is an indisputable hockey town again, and we assured of such through at least June 8.

That’s right, hockey in June.

For those of us under the age of, say, 50, this is all a relatively rare phenomenon, perhaps more so than many of us realize. In our lifetimes, since the 1972 Stanley Cup championship that many of us do not remember – not really, anyway – the Bruins have been to the Stanley Cup finals on five occasions and won a grand total of five games. They have won just one finals game since 1978. Boston's last two postseason trips into the finals paired them against a historically good Edmonton Oilers team that all but wiped the ice with the Bruins – the final game count in those series was Edmonton 8, Bruins 1, a collection of games during which the Oilers outscored the Bruins by 21 goals.

For what it’s worth, these Canucks were dominant during the regular season, leading the NHL in goals for and goals against while posting a league-best goal differential of plus-77. (The Bruins were second at plus-51.) Vancouver suffered just 19 regulation losses all season, almost half of them (nine) by just one goal.

Of course, one of those defeats came against – you guessed it - the Bruins, who posted a 3-1 victory at Vancouver on February 26, though it should be noted that the Bruins' final tally in that affair was an empty-net goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Beginning tomorrow night, the Canucks will get their chance at retribution beginning with Game 1.

The Bruins, meanwhile, will have their eyes on a well-earned chance at redemption 39 years in the making.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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